Remember when the hardest thing to decide between you and your partner on a Friday night was where to eat out? Now, on a typical “wild and crazy” Friday night, you and your partner discuss the pros and cons of sleep training and who is taking the night shift when the baby wakes up. Being married with children multiplies the love in a family, but it can also complicate relationship dynamics between the parents. Some of you may have anticipated disagreements in parenting while others may have been shocked that you and your partner are not on the same page as you used to be when choosing restaurants.
If you find yourself experiencing conflict in your marriage or co-parenting relationship, this is normal. After all, two people from two different life experiences who may have opposing beliefs about parenting can cause bumps in a relationship. Parenting, especially in those early years, already comes with pressure and stress (and sleep deprivation). These factors can exacerbate any discord happening in a marriage. If you and your partner are not on the same page when it comes to how to raise your children, this can create rifts in any marriage long term.
But hope is not lost.
There are many ways to work through these marital issues related to co-parenting in different ways. Speaking to a close friend about these problems could be a healthy coping mechanism in conjunction with couples counseling, which can help with longer-term conflict resolution strategies. We asked two highly qualified couples therapists to provide some insight on how to address two different parenting styles in a marriage: Tracy K. Ross and Dr. Mimi Shagaga.
Below are helpful advice and effective strategies from both couples therapists on how to successfully co-parent when there are two different parenting styles in a relationship.
What advice can you give to couples struggling with conflict because they have different parenting styles?
First, both experts said it’s common to have different parenting styles.
“It’s normal and even expected to have different parenting styles; the most important aspect of parenting well together is how you communicate and compromise around those differences. If handled correctly, with respect and open communication, this can be a strength and can actually benefit the children,” Ross said.
Dr. Shagaga noted something similar: “In a recent study, it was suggested that only one third of couples reported having the same parenting style. This suggests that it is not an uncommon issue for couples to experience.”
“The key is open, honest communication, which is more challenging than many imagine. Practice active listening and learn to really hear each other. If you use curiosity to sincerely try to understand where your partner is coming from, you may learn something and even begin to see their point of view. At the very least, listening with sincerity and curiosity will lower resentment and hostility,” Ross said.
How can parents who have different parenting styles find a middle ground in support of their children’s well-being?
“It would be helpful for both parties to learn and to understand what parenting style each of them exhibits. Traditionally, research has demonstrated that there are four parenting styles, though this has evolved over time to include additional styles. Traditionally, the four parenting styles are permissive, authoritative, neglectful, and authoritarian. Each individual having a better understanding of where their partner is coming from will help bridge that gap in communication and difference in approach,” Dr. Shagaga said.
“Don’t ever undermine or override the other parent in front of the kids. This is confusing and teaches kids that parents don’t work together and that they just have to figure out who to ask for what and thereby get what they want. It’s called splitting, and it doesn’t teach kids healthy boundaries. Furthermore, allowing kids to split, passively or actively undermining your co-parent, not only sends the wrong messages to your kids, but it also weakens your marriage.
Take a break from a stance of righteousness; stop trying to convince your spouse that your position is correct and their opinion is incorrect. There is likely value in both points of view. And if you allow room to truly understand where they are coming from, it doesn’t mean you have to change your mind or concede. You just have to honor that your child’s other parent has a valid point of view and is also motivated by love and care.
Understand where your views are coming from. We all form a belief system based on how we were raised—some of this is automatic and some is conscious. It’s important to reflect on this with your partner:
What are the ways in which you were parented that you appreciate and serve you well?
What are the parts you’d like to improve on or do differently with your own kids?
And how much of this is already happening outside of your awareness?
If you examine this in yourself openly and honestly, your partner will be more likely to do so. You can then decide together how you want to parent as a team,” Ross said.
What tools can parents use when they have ongoing conflicts about parenting styles?
Ross shared this helpful tool and advice: “First, honor your differences and acknowledge what you appreciate about each other as parents. Then:
- Listen with curiosity. Pick your battles. Examine your own beliefs.
- Know your children—one size does not fit all.
- Compromise—you can’t have it your way all the time.
- Experiment—agree to try it the other way and then reassess.
“[Make] the strength of your marriage and connection [a priority] over being right or doing it your way. Don’t argue in front of your kids. Instead, find time to speak to your partner alone.
[Regarding] things you absolutely don’t see eye to eye on, acknowledge those differences and decide what to do about that together. It shouldn’t just be a contest of who can prevail. [This is] bad for the kids and bad for the marriage.
Consult a parenting expert or couples therapist. Sometimes, it’s much easier to talk and hear each other with a third party, especially one who may have expertise in the area.
Acknowledge your partner’s strengths and value as a parent. What do they do better than you? Appreciate your differences and let each other know—if you feel valued, it will be easier to accept disagreements and compromise where possible,” Ross said.
“The practice and use of ‘I Statements’ can be helpful in de-escalating conflict and getting to the root of the issue. Further, having an understanding of differing parenting styles can foster empathy and more compassion for one’s partner,” Dr. Shagaga said.
Are there benefits to raising kids with two different parenting philosophies?
A harmonious parenting relationship does not mean you have to be on the same exact page on every aspect of raising your children. Life would be devoid of any color that way! Both couples therapists shared that having diverse parenting philosophies can be a strength if you harness those differences to come to a mutual agreement on the benefits of both sides of your expectations, perspectives, and philosophies.
“It is not uncommon for different parenting styles to actually complement each other. Couples can explore the strengths and weaknesses each individual exhibits with regard to how they parent their children. They can also learn from each other and improve upon areas that may be particularly challenging,” Dr. Shagaga said.
“Children don’t need to get the exact same thing from both parents; while you do need to present a united front, you don’t need to agree on everything—it’s important to understand the difference between the two,” Ross said.
“Just today, I spoke with several couples who have different philosophies: One is too lenient [and] the other too strict, etc. But when they are able to hear each other and understand where it’s coming from—the beliefs behind the behavior—they become stronger couples and better parents.”
“With parenting, there is no ‘one size fits all.’ You have to know your children and understand what works best for each one. Sometimes, one parent is more attuned to a particular child or has a blind spot (this can be for many reasons). Having different philosophies can be especially helpful in these circumstances.
With parenting, there is no ‘one size fits all.’ Sometimes, one parent is more attuned to a particular child or has a blind spot (this can be for many reasons). Having different philosophies can be especially helpful in these circumstances.
Kids benefit from getting different perspectives (as long as parents aren’t trying to sabotage each other and aren’t in conflict). And no parent has all the knowledge or all the answers. Every parent gets stuck or has missteps at some point—parenting is the hardest job in the world.
If you have a co-pilot who brings different ideas, beliefs, and philosophies to the table and you have strong, healthy communication, you are modeling so many important life skills for your children: listening, compromising, resolving differences, give and take, [etc.],” Ross said.
Ultimately, showing your children how to come to an understanding as a couple through open communication and respect can teach your littles some valuable life lessons on problem-solving skills, partnerships, and the importance of diversity in relationships.